By Robin Hill
There’s nothing like a new “sky is falling” health threat to get the media all excited and focused on healthcare.
The latest, of course, is the Wuhan novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which made its first appearance at the end of 2019 and has since dominated the non-political headlines. This despite the fact that the CDC considers the plain old flu a much more urgent threat since it has killed roughly 12,000 Americans and caused 210,000 hospitalizations so far this season versus 13 confirmed diagnoses of the coronavirus in the U.S. as of mid-February.
What is drawing the concerns, however, is how swiftly the coronavirus can spread and kill, which is one of the reasons 195 people were isolated in California in the first mandatory quarantine issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 50 years. To date, the coronavirus has spread faster than swine flu or SARS, and the early death toll after initial discovery has been faster as well. Without a strong effort for detection and containment here in the U.S., the numbers could be telling a much different story.
Still, it’s early in the virus’ lifecycle. One of the factors that is keeping healthcare executives up at night is that the coronavirus’ symptoms, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, are virtually indistinguishable from those of the flu, or even the common cold.
The degree of severity of the warning signs can vary greatly too, according to the CDC. Some people may fall deathly ill right away, while others exhibit barely any symptoms. This further exacerbates the risk of a more virulent outbreak since many of the people who have, in fact, been exposed to the coronavirus may simply assume they have an ordinary illness. As a result, they will go on with their daily lives, threatening not only their own lives but those of everyone with whom they come in contact.
Of course, COVID-19 itself is only a symptom of a much larger issue – how rapidly any population-threatening infectious disease can spread. It wasn’t long ago that the Ebola virus was gaining the same media fury that COVID-19 is today. There have been others (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome/SARS, Legionnaires’ Disease, the Black Death), and there will be others.
The good news is healthcare now has a weapon that can help stop the spread faster and mitigate the threat posed by these outbreaks – telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM).
Analytics and information
One of the reasons fast-moving diseases can spread so quickly is that gathering information about it often takes time. In the meantime, the disease continues to spread until it is understood well enough to A) identify that this is a new threat and B) takes steps to stop the spread while C) protecting healthcare workers from deadly exposure.